If the Browns beat Buffalo today and go on to an 11-5 finish, Romeo Crennel’s record after three seasons will be 21-27. Bill Belichick’s record was 20-28 after his first three years in Cleveland.

Romeo Crennel will have to still be coaching at 70 to match what Bill Belichick is doing in New England.

However, Crennel is on the verge of beating what Belichick did in Cleveland.

If the Browns beat Buffalo today and go on to an 11-5 finish, Crennel’s record after three seasons will be 21-27. Belichick’s record was 20-28 after his first three years in Cleveland.

Three years in, Crennel is looking to into a playoff spot. At a similar stage, Belichick inspired apathy and annoyance going 6-10, 7-9 and 7-9. Now that he’s winning, Crennel is inspiring good will with his infectious smile and people skills.

It’s not all wins and giggles.

His background is in defense, and that unit has ranked last in average yards allowed for eight straight weeks. With the stakes getting higher on a road trip against an average-at-best Arizona team, the Browns played their worst game since the ’07 kickoff debacle against Pittsburgh. At least that’s what General Manager Phil Savage said.

However, there’s no denying Crennel credit for surprising success through 13 games. National preseason magazines projected the Browns (8-5) in the 3-13 to 6-10 range. 

Beating Buffalo would give Crennel a 6-1 home record this season. How is this possible for a team that went 4-12 in 2006?

Crennel answered with that belly chuckle of his: “I’m doing a really good job.”

He’s having a little fun. Why not?

Belichick was 39 when he coached his first Browns game in 1991. Crennel was 58 when he took over in 2005. Young Belichick didn’t know how to treat people and delegate authority. Crennel seems to have figured it out.

He entered 2007 knowing a 6-7 record at this point would have kicked off the Bill Cowher speculation. If Crennel’s program seemed too lifeless, his five-year, $11 million contract that runs through the 2009 season would have been settled. Owner Randy Lerner would have endorsed a coaching change.

There remains a tinge of doubt as to what would happen if the season collapses today and the team skids to 8-8. Oddsmakers don’t see it. The Browns are 5 1/2-point favorites to improve to 9-5.

Crennel got off the hot seat, probably, when Phil Dawson’s Baltimore Bank Shot reversed a defeat. Now? Buffalo is in town with a threatening team.

Crennel’s 60-year-old heart probably will beat faster today. It’s doubtful it will show in his face.

“That’s the strength of Romeo,” Dawson said. “He hasn’t changed. ... He’s always been very straightforward, very honest. He makes it clear what he expects.

“He’s our leader. We follow him.”

Still, Browns fans worry. They’ve seen enough eggs laid for an omelet that would fit over Lake Erie. Yet they want to believe Crennel has built something. They see evidence of real strength. The Arizona egg is the only recent example of the old ways. Even with that, the Browns have won three of four.

Which “C” word seems more applicable to Cleveland as the Browns get ready to run through the tunnel? Choke? Or confidence?

“It’s typical that a team with a lot of young players and a young quarterback grows together and gains confidence, which I think they have a lot of,” an NFL long-timer said in a recent discussion of Crennel. “That comes from your head coach.”

The speaker was Belichick.

Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com